Scientists have been studying fear for a long time. Fear has an evolutionary purpose, of course: Our “fight or flight” instincts exist to protect us from predators, and fear helps our minds determine whether or not something or someone is a threat, and how we should react to it.
Unfortunately, statistics show that 18% of Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, in which the body’s natural fear response is disproportionate to the situation. When a fear reaction is triggered by something that shouldn’t trigger it (such as a phone call), or lasts far longer than it should, this can impact quality of life and is considered an anxiety disorder.
But although studies so far have taught scientists many things about how fear is processed, there is still a lot more to learn. A recent study uncovered an exciting new brain dynamic that occurs when we experience fear. These new findings could impact how we treat anxiety.
The Amygdala and The Hippocampus
While they may sound like the names of mythic monsters, the amygdala and the hippocampus are actually regions of the brain. The amygdala has been found to play a role in fear processing, and the hippocampus functions as part of the system that forms emotional memories. Researchers at the University of California Irvine decided to further investigate how these two areas of the brain interact when it comes to fear.
This study was made possible by a group of people with medication-resistant epilepsy who had electrodes surgically implanted into various regions of the brain, including the amygdala and hippocampus, to track and evaluate seizure activity. Researchers took this opportunity to also show patients horror movies and gather some data on how the brain reacts to fear stimulus.
Their findings were incredible: When the brain experiences a fear response, the amygdala sends information directly to the hippocampus. But when fear is not present, no information is exchanged between the two regions.
This means incredible things for the treatment of anxiety and anxiety disorders. Currently, anxiety medications are unable to target specific regions of the brain. The large area of impact can lead to unwanted side effects. But the more scientists know about the precise function of how the brain processes fear, the more targeted and specific our treatment of those disorders can be.
Treating Dental Anxiety
Luckily, when it comes to dental anxiety, treatment doesn’t need to be ongoing, so side effects of long term medication use are not a major concern. Unlike anxiety disorders that impact people every day, dental anxiety is limited to infrequent dental appointments and procedures. This makes it significantly easier to treat, since it can be treated case-by-case.
Sedation dentistry is a great option for treating dental anxiety and making your appointment or procedure a breeze. The process is incredibly easy. You will be provided with a pill to take at home before your appointment. It will cause you to feel extremely relaxed, and time will feel like it’s passing very quickly. You will be awake and aware during your procedure, but will likely have little to no memory of it afterwards. Many people find that using sedation to get their dental procedures helps them reduce anxiety in the future. Some people may even find that one sedation dentistry treatment is enough to eliminate their dental anxiety for good!
While many anxiety medications have side effects, sedation dentistry is a safe procedure and the medication involved is very mild. If dental anxiety is keeping you from getting the dental care you need, sedation dentistry could be the answer.